DRYDEN, N.Y.—For small towns in the U.S., especially in rural areas, the decline of the Main Street is a decades-old tale. Businesses closing their doors, buildings in need of repair, the charm and community feel that older residents remember from their younger days — it’s just not the same.

The Village of Dryden in recent years has been putting in an effort to revitalize and make their community more vibrant. For one, Village and Town of Dryden residents helped to build a basketball court, a pickleball court, and a playground in Montgomery Park, which sits in the heart of the Village. 

And Dryden is hoping to stay in stride with a grant from New York State of up to $4.5 million. And they’re moving fast to complete the application: It’s due Sept. 23.

The grant is through the state’s new NY Forward Program, which was modeled after New York’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Previously, towns and cities of all sizes competed for DRI’s grants, putting smaller communities with less robust staffs at a disadvantage to receive the grant funds, which can be up to $10 million. 

The NY Forward Program is specifically for smaller communities, like villages and hamlets, and grant funding is between $4.5 and $2.25 million. NY Forward was just announced in July, shortening the window of time for applications to be put together. The crunch to get them done makes Drydeners feel optimistic that their application can get the attention of the state. 

“I think we have a pretty good chance. […] It’s a matter of who can pick up the ball and run fast to get to the goal,” said Village of Dryden Mayor Mike Murphy.

The Village, along with the Dryden Business Association held an input session to inform the grant application they submit. About 50 people showed up at the Dryden Fire Hall on Aug. 31 to offer their take on Dryden’s greatest assets and challenges. 

Attendees went into breakout groups to put their thoughts down in a rainbow of colored markers on giant white sheets of poster paper. They were given a free license to offer any reasonable idea. Money was no object, they were told, just what the Village of Dryden could use.

The grant application doesn’t require the Village of Dryden to commit to any specific projects, simply list out the ones that it thinks are achievable and could benefit the community. If they’re awarded the grant, the village will work with partners in the state to determine which projects are feasible.

And the info session was replete with suggestions for such projects. Children had their parents lobby for a splash pad to be added to Montgomery Park. Perhaps a daycare center or a dog park could attract state funding. Ideas that proved popular were improving parking, making crosswalks more visible, or even just slowing traffic down on the busy State Route 13 that bisects the Village of Dryden. The state highway is considered one of Dryden’s biggest challenges for growth. 

One of the most consistent suggestions was sprucing up the buildings along Dryden’s mainstreet, but the trouble with that is it would require the building owners themselves to put forward about 40% of the cost of the project.

One idea that commonly came up was improving the quality of the apartments along Dryden’s Main Street. Many of them, Mayor Murphy says, haven’t seen major upgrades in about 60-80 years. Making the Village denser, which would support more business activity, rose up as an idea worth planning and consideration.

Many people brought up the benefits that would come with connecting the students at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) and Dryden High School to the mainsteet. Both places are about a one-and-a-half mile from the Village’s main street, but part of TC3’s walk goes along a road that doesn’t have a sidewalk.

Connecting the students to Dryden’s main thoroughfare is just one of the ways to bring more life into a village whose residents feel is on the upswing.

“We have a community that has possibility,” said Murphy.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn